Now that the holiday season has officially started, this means that holiday music officially gets kicked in gear. Radio stations, shopping malls, and television commercials start playing “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” and other music of that sort. But for every “Silent Night”, there’s a “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”. Here’s a list of fifteen terrible Christmas songs, ranging from favorites that everyone loathes, rocky covers of classic favorites, and obscure songs one might not have heard before.
15: LITERALLY ANY SONG FROM A CHRISTMAS ALBUM PIGGYBACKING OFF OF A PROPERTY THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CHRISTMAS.
There’s a whole bunch of these. The Ally McBeal Christmas album, the Brady Bunch Christmas album, there’s even a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Christmas album. Occasionally some of them make sense: The Partridge Family was a television show about singers, of course they would have a Christmas album about them. The same goes with the television shows Nashville and Glee (though more on Glee later). But then you get the bizarre. Perhaps one of the most bizarre is Christmas In the Stars, a Star Wars themed Christmas album. The album contains songs like “The Odds Against Christmas,” “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and most importantly, “R2-D2, We Wish You A Merry Christmas” which features Jon Bon Jovi’s professional recording debut.
14: “THE COVENTRY CAROL”
Growing up Catholic and singing in the church choir, we always had a pre-Christmas mass performance that was partly music to entertain people who got their seats early, partly to sing some songs people knew, but weren’t sing in mass proper. Occasionally, one of the songs in the program was “The Coventry Carol.” It’s a lovely song and a beautiful tune, but the juxtaposition of it between “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “The First Noel” was off-putting for one major reason: “The Coventry Carol” is about murdering babies. Specifically, it’s about King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents. There is nothing that gets you out of the Christmas mood faster than a song about mass child murder. And yet “The Coventry Carol” has been featured on plenty of Christmas CDs and in plenty of church programs, ruining the mood for hundreds of years.
13: Twisted Sister – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Ha ha! Infidelity is funny! “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is a terrible song to begin with, with the singer taking outright glee at the idea of mommy committing adultery. But at least when a child is singing the song, you can hand-wave some of that away as just children not understanding the implications of seeing this image. When Twisted Sister is giving a play by numbers hair metal rendition of the song, the implications become a bit weirder. I’m in favor of artists re-imagining classic Christmas songs in their own style. I’m not in favor of them being kind of boring.
12: THE CHEEKY GIRLS – “HAVE A CHEEKY CHRISTMAS”
This song is objectively terrible. The Cheeky Girls can barely sing, the production value is ARK Music Factory levels, and the lyrics are questionable at best. A song with lyrics like “ooh baby baby / very sexy in the snow” isn’t a holiday staple for a reason. But at the same time, like Flash Gordon and Xanadu, I can’t help but love it. This song is awful. But there’s just something that makes me grin every time the Cheeky Girls just scream “MERRY CHRISTMAAAAAS” without any sort of inflection.
11: LADY GAGA & SPACE COWBOY – “CHRISTMAS TREE”
Here’s another that’s objectively terrible and yet I still can’t help but love. This song is a tacky mess. The backing sounds like it was played on a cheap thrift shop keyboard. Space Cowboy sleepwalks through this song, which both Gaga and him deliver in an oddly robotic tone. The lyrics are baffling and the metaphor’s confusing. Spoiler alert: the Christmas Tree is her vagina. It’s a metaphor that works for talking about putting someone underneath her Christmas tree but makes a bit less sense when her Christmas tree is described as delicious.
10: TRAIN – “JOY TO THE WORLD”
A song like “Joy to the World” should be…well, joyful. Train takes this bizarrely lethargic, stretching every word and syllable out like the band forgot there was another minute of song to fill. You’d think that, but the last entire minute of the song is dedicated to a poor put-upon church choir singing the same phrase over and over again while Patrick Monahan warbles variations on “joy” in the world’s most dull improv session. But perhaps the most aggravating part of the song is the point, in the middle of the song, where Train slips in the chorus of their song “Calling All Angels.” When you’re in the middle of slogging through a good song, there’s no need to remind you of an even worse song.
9: PENTATONIX – “HALLELUJAH”
The world did not need another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The world especially did not need a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as done by the a capella group Pentatonix. Any goodwill that Pentatonix might have gained from me due to their earlier Youtube work is ruined by this song, in which Pentatonix decide that the best way to perform Leonard Cohen is overwrought, loud, over-dramatic, and again, loud. They take a song filled with quiet moments and push it to a climax that is supposed to be powerful but comes off as every member trying to out-diva the rest. This counts as a Christmas song as it was released on the cd A Pentatonix Christmas and I heard it on our local Christmas radio. Which to be honest, the inclusion of “Hallelujah” on a CHRISTMAS album automatically puts it on this list: Cohen was Jewish, and his Jewishness was an important part his personal life and his music. To either erase, overlook, or simply not care about that reads as tacky beyond belief.
8: ALAN JACKSON – “PLEASE DADDY, DON’T GET DRUNK THIS CHRISTMAS”
Ha ha! Crippling alcoholism is funny! I’m not sure what’s the worst part of this song: the jaunty way in which the tune is sung, the fact that the singer is supposed to be seven years old, or the entire second verse. There is an argument that this song could be black comedy, but at least in my opinion (as well as the opinions of countless others), Jackson never pushes the line enough and plays it too safe, keeping it somewhere in the neighborhood of ‘vaguely disconcerting’ instead of ‘out and out black comedy.’ The bright and cheerful country music backing only adds to the level of disconcerting and confusing that this song brings.
7: THE CAST OF GLEE – “DECK THE ROOFTOP”
Glee’s Christmas music has gone all across the spectrum, from the terrible (“Christmas Don’t Be Late”) to the boring (“Last Christmas”) to the downright hilarious (“Love Child”). The worst of all is probably “Deck the Rooftop” a mash-up of “Deck the Halls” and “Up On the Housetop.” This is everything that people have come to criticize about Glee. It’s an autotuned monstrosity without any trace of fun that somehow manages to take two classic, timeless Christmas carols and make them sound like the worst thing about the 2000s. The fact that they continue to say “up on the rooftop” instead of “up on the housetop” is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, a metaphorical rock in your shoe of utter annoyance.
6: JOHN LENNON, YOKO ONO & THE PLASTIC ONO BAND – “HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)”
I’m not going to go the easy route here and criticize the music. Any cheap jokes about Yoko Ono should be ignored as the real musical culprit here is the hastily assembled children’s choir to serve as backing. Besides, the worst thing here is the lyrics. “Happy Xmas” is accusatory, self-aggrandizing, and a little bit racist. “War is over / if you want it” Lennon sings, implying that gosh, all this conflict and worldwide strife happening because we simply don’t want it to stop enough. The lyrics are mawkish and clunky, like a poem that’s written by the student taking Creative Writing 101 just to fill an elective. “And so this is Christmas / for black and for white / for the yellow and red ones / let’s stop all the fight.”
5: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
This song is just too damn long. And, unlike other Christmas songs that are just too damn long, you can’t really cut any of this song or skip over a verse or two. You’re stuck listening to all twelve days of Christmas and hearing the same phrase repeated over and over again, driven mad as the choir stretches out “fiiiiive goooolden riiiiings” for the seventh time in a row. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” also deserves an inclusion just because of all the terrible parody songs it’s inspired: Bob Rivers’ “The Twelve Pains of Christmas,” “Redneck Twelve Days of Christmas,” the Phantom of the Opera themed Twelve Days of Christmas, and so on. Everyone who thinks they can write a Twelve Days of Christmas parody song has definitely written a Twelve Days of Christmas parody song, whether it’s a good song or not. Even when there’s a parody gem in there (I’ll go to bat for Bob & Doug McKenzie’s “Twelve Days of Christmas”) or a halfway decent version of the original (John Denver and the Muppet’s “Twelve Days of Christmas”) you’ve had to slog through so many half-hearted parodies in the first place in order to find it. The bad easily outweighs the good.
4: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN”
If there’s any song on this list that will incite the most controversy, it’s going to be this one. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is a dull song to begin with, it’s even worse when you’ve got Bruce Springsteen attempting cute concert patter, asking “you guys know what time it is?” like there aren’t jingle bells in the background and they don’t know what song they’re going to sing. Springsteen, someone who’s got actual talent on some songs, sings this with as much grace as drunken office karaoke. I don’t know if this fails because it’s an awkward live version or because Springsteen did not care but there’s just nothing about this song that works. The only saving grace is the saxophone solo in the middle, but not even Clarence Clemons can save this trainwreck of a song.
3: KEELI – “NOTHING BUT BOWS”
The website Pop Dose had a seasonal feature called Mellowmas, where they reviewed amazingly awful Christmas songs, both ones you’d expect to hear and ones that nobody’s heard before. This is one of the ones that nobody’s heard before and I’m honestly a bit sorry that I’m bringing it to your attention now. It’s another song about putting out for Santa, done in the same obnoxious “cutesty” style as Madonna’s “Santa Baby.” Whereas the charm of “Santa Baby” came from the simply ridiculous list of requests the singer was making of Santa, “Nothing But Bows” just seems to be about sexing up Santa Claus, complete with awkward sound effects and randy Santa “ho ho ho’s”. It’s nauseating at worst and awkward at best, made even more awkward by this actual lyric from the song: “next year Santa might come twice.”
2: BAND AID 30 – “DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?”
Content warning for brief disease-related imagery in the video. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is an awful song. But a few things save it from being an absolutely awful song: the bonkers over the top 1980s production, the peppy tune, and lyrics like “where nothing ever grows / no rain or river flows” and “well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” which are so amazingly tone-deaf and just plain wrong that you can’t help but gape in disbelief. This version, rerecorded in 2014 to raise money for ebola relief, doesn’t have any of that. It’s stripped anything fun and listenable from the original, instead giving us a funeral march of a song. I appreciate the effort behind rerecording the song, but in an ideal world, a charity single is something that you’d WANT to listen to. I can’t think of anyone who’d willingly listen to this Christmas dirge more than once.
1: NEWSONG – “THE CHRISTMAS SHOES”
It’s a given. It’s a cliche answer but there are very few songs that are worse than “The Christmas Shoes.” Patton Oswalt has already torn this song to bits in an absolutely amazing stand-up routine but “Christmas Shoes” needs to be dragged as often as humanly possible. It’s a saccharine, awful piece of tripe that even a Hallmark movie would dismiss as too kitschy. The seemingly life-or-death act of buying shoes for the mother on her literal deathbed isn’t the worst point in the song. That honor goes to the lyric: “I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me / what Christmas is all about,” so amazingly tone-deaf and simply bad that you can’t help but gape in horror before the awkward children’s choir comes in. Because, isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas: God stiffing a little boy enough change so that you can feel good about yourself. Happy holidays!